Visit with me here to commiserate and to celebrate the writing life. Or you can find me over at Heckled by Parrots where life is for the birds… and the dog.

Happy One Month Anniversary!!

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Dear Girlfriend,

I know you’ve never bought yellow flowers. I think you said, “Not ever. Never. Yellow is for chicks, ducklings, and babies of unknown sex.” That made me laugh, so I bought you these yellow Calla lilies. Sometimes, I think you have to try to see things in a different light… and look at how beautiful the yellow flowers are on the patio. Sitting next to the door, they look like an invitation to come in. I think you should keep opening that door.

You’re crying. Please don’t cry. I know you still don’t think you deserve them. But you do. And I also know you’re a little bit worried that deep down you actually adore chicks and ducklings and babies of unknown sex. Breathe. Sometimes lilies are yellow because they are perfect that way. Perfect comes in every color. Even yellow.

I got you this as well…

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Shut up. It was only $8 and it was so obviously made for you. We can afford it. We made $37 recycling our cans this weekend. (I told you it would be a lot more than $12 and totally worth the bother. Maybe next time you won’t bother arguing with me.) This little beauty barely put a dent in the can money.

Anyway, you HAD to have this. Remember how much you loved the tillandsias when you lived in Florida? All the bromeliads, the orchids and collecting Spanish moss? Look at this beautiful tillandsia! You should have more bright and living reminders of your adventures.

Right now is hard, I know. It’s okay that you get lost in your regrets and in imaginary bargains. It’s okay that you still think you lost something monumental. I’m still waiting. I’ll keep waiting.

It’s only a moment, you know? A quiet and aching moment in what has been a crazy fun life. The stories you tell me…  You should have white sage, Australian ferns, resurrection lilies, sand verbena, palo verde, and penstemon. This house could be a jungle of memories with plenty of room for new flora.This is just a pause in a long adventure.

Right now though, we can start with a tillandsia, with an air plant to remind you to breathe deeply, that everything you need to nourish yourself is around you. You just have to open your pores and let it all back in.

And now you’re crying again. Don’t cry. I just thought up that metaphor this very moment. Truth is that I bought you an air plant because I’m pretty sure you can’t kill it. I figure the calla lilies are doomed.

Happy Anniversary, Red-headed girl.
You deserve all the love in the world.

To follow all the 158 Days Posts check out the Tumblr Blog.

starved

I’ve lost ten pounds. I’m gotten an amazing amount of work done in the last week. My house is clean. I’m sober and fidgety. When I look in the mirror I’m shocked at how my clear my skin is, how bright my eyes are, how gorgeous I am with red lipstick and eyeliner. And all I can think is… I shouldn’t look like this when I’m so fucking sad. I am so fucking sad. Why am I still so fucking sad?

But I know why. It’s the new realizations. The wondering. The texts from the mother of the ex’s boys… writing to thank me for being a positive influence in their life, telling me that they miss me and although the rest of what I had may have been a lie — their love for me was real…  (Honestly, they loved my dogs… but who could blame them? And really, my two yin and yang Brittanys are extension of me.)

The sadness is the easy part. Staying upright when I want to curl up on the cool tile and wish myself further down and away is easy. It’s easy to pretend you are a shark, to keep moving so that the oxygen stays in your blood. It’s the kindness that is hard.

Why is it so hard to close your eyes against the night and say, “I love you, Rebecca Kate. Sleep well. Dream better”? I don’t know. But it is and I stutter through it every night. Maybe that’s why something is shifting.

I found myself standing in front of an aisle of autumn decorations all 50% off, running a finger across the gold, orange, and red tones I love so much. I never buy myself trinkets anymore. Not since I quit my executive job to write for a living over 2 years ago. Not since I decided I didn’t deserve these things, that I wouldn’t deserve these things until I proved I was a responsible adult again. Weird thing is, I didn’t know I had decided this. I didn’t realize it until my girlfriend said, “Let me buy that for you. It’s so pretty. It’s only $4.”

So there I stood at Rite Aid in front of an aisle of cheap seasonal trinkets arguing with myself for 20 minutes. My girlfriend won though.  And she coaxed me to the cash register, embarrassed to be wiping away tears over a painted glass candle holder. The cashier just smiled at me and said, “Wow. This is really pretty.”

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The next day in the grocery store, my girlfriend said, “Stargazer lilies. Really. They’re only $4. You haven’t had them in your house since you lived in Sacramento. They smell so wonderful. Let’s get them.” Again I agonized — they were just going to die. It was wasted money. But I bought them. I brought them home, pulled out my favorite vase, measured them, trimmed the stems under the facet and carefully mixed food in their water. It was a familiar rhythm, a ritual of love.

And in a quite moment, flipping through a Martha Stewart magazine, she whispered, “That’s pretty. Rip that page out. Maybe we could paint something like that in the kitchen. Wouldn’t that be fun some weekend? You should start an inspiration file again. Tear THAT page out too…”

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And this all makes me sad as well. Sad, but it’s also making me better.

Here I am trying to get over someone else and I now I realize I shut my girlfriend out two and half years ago. Why the hell did I do that? Although, I know why. I decided she wasn’t worthy of love. That she wouldn’t be worthy of love until she proved herself to me again. The bitch of it is, that she could never be worthy again without my love and support.

No wonder I got myself in this mess. No wonder I believed my boyfriend’s lies. I was so hungry for all the things I had stopped doing for myself. I was starved. My poor sweet, beautiful, sensitive girlfriend. I’m sorry. I’m going to fix this.

To follow all the 158 Days posts go to the Tumblr Bog.

The Power of a Postcard

I’m going to say more here than I think I should. But so be it. Maybe this help someone else…

It’s been two weeks now my little drama and the truth is that it was touch and go for me for a bit. A break up is one thing. The realization that the person you were absolutely certain was “the one” was a complete and total fabrication is a different kind of emotional pain. You have to rethink every word said, every gesture made, every undocumented space of his time, and piece five months of your reality back together into something wholly different.

I’ve been here before. Twenty years ago I had a boyfriend for two years who was a complete fabrication. His family tried to warn me. His sister-in-law wrote me a long letter that I would come to regret dismissing.

For two years I loved and lived with a sociopath. I didn’t know it at the time, but he raced to Northern California where I was going to college to be with me because he had a warrant for evading arrest in Riverside. I just thought he loved me that much. I mean, that’s what he said.

In no time he had a second girlfriend and juggled us both… he told her I was crazy and he was afraid to break up with me. He told me he didn’t love her, it was just a mistake. It on it went.

I borrowed money from my family to get away from him and move out… and he stole it from me so that I couldn’t leave. There were other women, more lies, physical fights, calls to the police and I couldn’t get out. I alienated my family and friends and in the end, he was all I had. I know this was by design now, but I was a kid. I would find a strength in myself I didn’t know I had, but it would take another year.

When we did break up and get back together he would tell his other girlfriend I was a crazy stalker that wouldn’t leave him alone. And after an abortion, two suicide attempts, and hearing him tell her in front of me that I was insane, I finally turned him in on that warrant. (I didn’t know what it was for when I called it in, I just suspected there was one because of the letter from his family.) I prayed his jail time would give me enough time to gather the strength to say “no” to him next time.

It didn’t of course, I took him back one more time. And when I heard the tang of lies in his sweet words again, I looked up the other girlfriend’s phone number in the phone book and called her. We met for beers, compared a nauseating number of stories against our relationship timelines and wondered why women are so fucking stupid.

We confronted him that night, united. And faced with the inability to lie his way out of the situation, he grabbed me by the throat and tried to strangle me. She pulled him off me sobbing.

—She was sobbing because he obviously loved me more. And worse, I felt a little glow of pride when she said this.

I was sick with myself. That night I swore I would never get deeply involved with a man like that again. Although… I spent years terrified that this was my fate. That I WAS crazy and gullible and somehow irreversibly flawed. I didn’t have a name for it then, but years of therapy would teach me who he was… a sociopath, a person with no conscience.

It’s been twenty years. I’ve had brief brushes with others. Sociopaths love games with people. They get off on “getting away with it”. And some make it their life’s work to bring down people who are intelligent and moral. (See. You’re not better than me!)

I’m smart. I’m pretty. I’m great social collateral. Sociopaths love me. And I like them too. They are risk-takers and often live nontraditional lives. At first blush, they seem perfect for me. Still, I’ve gained faith over the last 20 years that I could spot a sociopath before any real damage was done.

Not this time. Definitely not this time.

The night I discovered that every other detail of my perfect relationship and promising future with a wonderful man was all a lie, I lost it. While the truth came crashing down around me in a barrage of texts, damning sexting screenshots with the other girlfriend and phone calls, I was suddenly 21 again. Worse there were two little boys in the equation that I had grown seriously fond of. It was just like last time, only more– more reason to be hurt…more reasons I wouldn’t get out. And like when I was 21, I found myself on the kitchen floor with a razor blade, watching the pooling blood on two experimental cuts on my wrist. “I can do this,” I thought. “I can make sure this never happens to me again.”

Sociopaths love drama though and he burst through my door right about then. I didn’t threaten to kill myself, so I was pissed when he appeared. How wonderful for him that I would love him so much. But that wasn’t it at all. The man I loved didn’t exist. I was distraught, but that wasn’t it. It was that I just didn’t think I had the strength to do this again and the 21 year-old girl in my head was screaming. We will never get out of this. It will never be over. I CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN.Please. Please. Just let me go.

I wasn’t much better the next morning. The horrible wave of wanting nothing kept crashing over me. I honestly didn’t care that I was going to leave animals alone and family and friends devastated. Nothing felt worth going through this again.

…But I’m not 21 anymore and that girl, despite her wailing in my head is not in charge. So I picked up the phone and called the local suicide hotline…

…And they didn’t have a counselor available to talk to me. They told me to call back later.

I laughed. It was half-hearted, but I laughed. There’s a story in this, I thought. Every horrible story needs a tiny moment of humor. There you go, there’s your moment of lightness. So I told my 21 year old to hush for bit and started calling friends and trying to figure out how I could get temporary help (maybe even snag some meds) until the rest of it was over.

I have no insurance. My options were limited, but it seems that my friends are limitless. I was given fantastic information on how to make my way through the county system, but the idea of going into county with cuts on my wrist worried me. I gave myself two days to come up with a plan to help myself and promised myself that if I couldn’t get the horrible wish for a dark nothing to go away that I would go in to County.

So I asked myself what I was afraid of… and what I was afraid of was taking him back. I already wanted to take him back. I wanted to be blissfully unaware of the truth. I was afraid I would decide to ignore the truth and embrace more lies. I was afraid they cycle would never end.

I grabbed the pad of post-its I had used to leave sweet notes in his apartment and starting writing down all of the lies I had discovered. And as my new reality as a dupe set in, I kept discovering. So I kept jotting and sticking. I ended up with 27 large post-its stuck everywhere around my living room.

I read them. When I ached for the person I was still in love with, I read them and reminded myself that this man didn’t exist. In fact, I realized that it was okay that I was in love with that man. He was wonderful, but he was just someone played by a actor through a 158 day run.

The next thing I asked was what *I* needed. And I decided what I needed was to love myself as much as my imaginary man. So I started 158 days and I asked for postcards to represent the notes I had left for him.

At the time, I didn’t realize that these postcards and cards would replace post-its. And really that is what this post is about. I want you all to know how much those postcards have meant to me.

I slowly replaced post-its with postcards. And yesterday, I had two more postcards with love notes than I had post-its with lies. The post-its are tucked away in a drawer now in case I need them, but I doubt I will. I am surrounded by love and encouragement… much of it my own words to myself written in the handwriting of people who obviously care about me.

I wouldn’t take him back. How could I betray an entire chorus of REAL love?

And I’m going to be okay. No. I’m going to be fantastic. I have work to do and need time to heal and feel strong again. But I’ll come out stronger, because you all believe in me so much, because you have given me so much, I’m going to make this 158 days count. Really count.

Never NEVER doubt the difference we can make for each other even from a distance.

xoxo

If you would like to see the postcards to can check out 158 Days on Tumblr or on Pinterest.

158 Days with the Love of Your Life

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I found myself wondering this morning how we could ever expect the people around us to keep their promises to us when we don’t keep the ones we make to ourselves. I wondered if we let people ruin us with lies about love because we’ve never really taken the time to fall in love with ourselves.

I think maybe we do. 

I was in a serious relationship for five months with a man who I believed (and my family and friends believed) was the love of my life. I was becoming friends with his ex-wife, spending time with his utterly adorable boys, and between the two of us, we were at each other’s places at least four days a week.

I have a long history of entangling myself with sociopaths; a step-father who led a double life with a second family, a live-in boyfriend who hid another girlfriend from me for a year and tried to strangle me when I finally confronted him with her in tow, another who conveniently never told me he went back to his wife…  But it’s been 12 years since I’ve been tripped up by a pathological liar. I thought maybe I had managed to learn to read the signs.

Then I got a Facebook message from the love-of-my-life’s girlfriend on Thursday night, the one he had been seeing the entire time we were in a committed relationship. I honest to God had no clue. He was swapping out her things and mine depending on who was spending the night at his place. He was texting us essentially the same “I love you baby” texts.  (I know because I’ve seen the screenshots as well as the sexting videos) He told me his mother was relentless and called him worried every night if she hadn’t heard from him. Of course, now I know he wasn’t talking to his mother. What a brilliant way to be able to tell another woman you love her while your girlfriend sits there smiling fondly at you… (Oh, and he and his ex-wife didn’t have an open marriage like he explained – at least not her side of it. So all those other girlfriends I heard about were just years of him doing what he does, what he was doing to me.)

Anyway, this isn’t about revenge. I wrote this all down for me to heal, not for me to hate. I’m just explaining what happened because it was quite possibly one of the most destructive things that could have happened to me emotionally. (To anyone perhaps, but my scars here run very very deep and they were gashed open again and now deeper.) The worst of it is the voice in my head that keeps screaming, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? Why do these people find you? Why do you let this happen? How can you be SO FUCKING BLIND. You know why everyone always betrays and abandons you? YOU ARE TOO BROKEN TO EVER BE WORTHY OF LOVE.

BUT I’M NOT. I’M NOT. FUCK YOU. I’M NOT.

And I’m not the only woman (or man) to be here in this dark place. I know we all get better. Time heals. Yadda yadda. But that’s not enough this go round. I want to meet that voice head on.  I want it to shut the fuck up.

So I’m taking back every day I gave him. Over the next 158 days, I’m going to date myself and do everything for myself that I did for him… and little bit more. And yes, because I know there’s a joke in there, I do mean sex as well. Girls, feel free to PM me with your sex toy/technique advice. And to anyone who thinks that’s crass or is pondering juvenile jokes, so be it. Love is a full package deal that includes physical touch… even if the only one doing the touching is yourself.

So I’m going to see if I can fall in love with myself. I’m going to see if I can be my own best friend.

I’m not the only one. We are all so many of us broken-hearted. So I challenge you too, my comrades of the torn and bloodied heart— for the next 158 days, let’s love ourselves. Maybe my list will help you make your own.

THE ROMANCING STARTS NOW…

  1. Make promises to yourself that you mean. Then keep them.
  2. Run. Run until there’s no more hurt. Run until you’re healthy. Run so that you can be completely there for yourself.
  3. Praise yourself for your successes.
  4. Hold yourself when things are bad. Promise yourself you will do everything in your power to make it better.
  5. Remind yourself repeatedly that you are a good person, but no one is perfect. And that you love the imperfect parts too.
  6. Be thoughtful. Put gas in the car before you almost run out. Make coffee the night before a busy morning. Do kind things that make life easier.
  7. Send cards. Leave yourself adoring and funny notes.
  8. Make yourself laugh.
  9. Take yourself out with friends so they can see what an amazing person you’re dating.
  10. Binge watch new television and commentate out loud.
  11. Cook yourself something delicious and sinful for date night every week.
  12. Read stories and poetry to yourself out loud.
  13. Sing to yourself. Loudly.
  14. When you wake say “good morning.”  Ask yourself how you’re feeling. Listen. Say, “I love you.”
  15. Say “I love you” every night before you drift off to sleep.
  16. Smile at yourself with love every time you meet your own eyes in the mirror.
  17. Take snapshots, save mementos of good times with yourself.
  18. Do things that make you feel beautiful, because beauty is an attitude and attitude is damn sexy, even when it’s your own reflection.
  19. Paint your nails, do your hair, put on makeup, wear sexy underwear (hell — corsets, garters, stockings, do it all up) and enjoy the results.
  20. When things get rocky, have a talk with yourself. Forgive yourself. Give yourself another chance to be the partner you deserve.
  21. On day 158 write yourself a long love letter. – the one you wrote him the morning before you found out about the betrayal,—the one where you will be there through the rough patches, the one that lists all the things you love about yourself including the quirks and faults. Write this letter and know that you can be certain that every word you write about you is true. That the five months of romance were real.

Then recommit. And then maybe I can let someone else into the relationship too.

Sadly, I suspect that loving myself is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do. But the list starts with a promise and I promise that I am going to commit myself to this relationship. I’m going to start by sending myself postcards. Here I need your help, friends…  If you are willing to help me, please drop me a line. I’ll give you something to write on a postcard and ask that you mail it to me on random day over the next five months. Or… if you are someone who has read my writing, you can pull a few lines from one of my books or posts and send them. This I’m sure, will help me stay on track.

You can send them to:

P.O. Box 862
Banning, CA 92220

And if you want to do 158 days with me… I’d be happy to send you postcards as well.

Now to go change my relationship status on Facebook to “in a relationship…”

You can follow the Tumblr page here: http://rebeccakoconnor.tumblr.com/

On Editing (and editing and editing)

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In a couple of months, I will have been freelancing full time for two years. So far the mortgage remains paid and I although I’m definitely struggling, I seem to be making a go of it. I’ve heard it said that with any new business, you really aren’t in the clear until you’ve been up and running for about five years. Writing for a living is no easy feat. I mean, it requires sitting down to write every day. No writer’s block allowed. It also requires something I hadn’t really thought much about before…. A lot of editing.

I think I spend more time editing than I do actually writing. The writing I pull together is varied. I write news pieces, blog posts, content for businesses, articles for magazines and books. All of this writing requires using a variety of voices and styles. Writing the Too Cute books for Animal Planet was a very different project than writing about a local nonprofit for the Press Enterprise. No matter what I’m working on though, all my work has one thing in common. It needs a great deal of editing.

Self-editing is a start. I do at least three edits on a finished piece. There is an immediate read through and edit. Then I read the piece out loud and edit it. This is incredibly helpful to me. I find that the longer I write, the more likely I am to drop words and read my work the way it formulated in my head rather than the way it landed on the page. Then I let the piece sit if possible and read it the next day one more time before I send it in.

This is often not enough. Hiring an editor for big projects is incredibly helpful and definitely worth the money. If you want your clients happy, your prose should be spotless when it’s published. Everyone these days is an editor and almost all writing makes it to a platform where the amateur editor can comment on it online. If you make a mistake, the masses are going to tell you. (And they won’t be kind about it.)

Lately, I’ve added a middle layer to my editing. I was offered a free trial of Grammarly to test and if I was interested review online. I jumped at the chance. Any means of editing help is one less headache for me! Editing programs will probably never be as perfect as several sets of human eyes, but every layer of help is valuable.

Grammarly works incredibly well for my purposes and is a much stronger editor than is found in Word. The plugin to Word is seamless and helpful. However, I find that the online features are more robust than the Word plugin and prefer to login online. To use the program online, you simply copy, paste and hit review. From there, you can toggle back and forth to make your edits on the master or copy and paste the everything into a document when you are finished editing. The only challenge with this for me is that I lose formatting when I cut and paste, so I try to make sure I check my writing before I do any major formatting (italics, bold, headers etc.)

Grammarly checks spelling, which I’ve normally handled by the time I run text through the program. It also takes a meticulous look at grammar usage. I’ve been reminded of a few rules I’ve forgotten, and it has definitely tightened up my sentence structure. You can choose between a variety writing styles. Whether it’s casual, business, academic, technical, or creative in style will influence what the software analyzes. It is also a great way to check for plagiarism and the need for citations.

Grammarly

These are great times to be a writer. Although writers find their work scrutinized more publicly and sometimes ruthlessly than in times past, the tools available are wonderful and getting better.

I love Grammarly because I’ve yet to figure out how to teach the parrots to edit my writing. Until then, I’ll use every helpful resource I can find.

No matter what I do, however, I find that the occasional mistake still slips past me and my assignment editor. Part of surviving as a writer is to be able to let go of these mistakes in print, I think. My memoir was printed with typos, and I’ve even had a few of mistakes slip past NatGeo. I’ve learned not to beat myself up, but to try harder next time. Putting new editing tools in the arsenal certainly  help this goal!

May 12 Check In: Finances, Mentoring and Writer Peers

California PoppiesOne of the problems with freelance writing full-time is that there isn’t a whole lot of room to be sick or even just feeling poorly for that matter. I don’t write well when I can’t focus – in fact, I don’t write at all. I was having some trouble with the upright position and holding down food this week, so my focus took a hit. This week was a bit of a wash, minus a few blog posts and bits and pieces.

Here, I suppose is a perfect example of why you MUST have a good chunk of money in your bank account to weather this kind of working life. (Which I don’t, but I am making it a priority.) You don’t really have room for weeks that are hard fought writing when you are freelancing.  I suppose another way to help is to have paid work that doesn’t take so much brain space. It’s not a bad idea to have some lesser paying jobs that require less brain space and are more tedious. (Another thing I should probably make a priority.) No work means – no money. No one is paying for sick time if you take it.

So now that I’m back up to speed, I’m hoping I can have a double-time week.  Next week I hope, will look like I’m going gangbusters writing.

Writing Derailments:

Feeling ill absolutely destroyed my writing week. I also think I’m having some major issues believing the nearly-finished novel that’s on my desk is good enough to finish, but I’ll finish it. This is what I would tell my amazing students in my memoir class… the most important thing you can do is finish your work. If it’s awful, if it’s not as good as what you have written before, so be it. You can’t learn and grow to your best potential as a writer if you don’t finish what you start.

Writing Highlights:

Looks like there is a contract in the works to do a Puppy Bowl book in the same vein as the TOO CUTE! Kittens and TOO CUTE!: Puppies books I finished recently. That will be a spectacularly fun project! I love looking at photos of adorable baby animals and storyboarding them!!

We are coming up on my last week of the memoir class I’ve been teaching at the Banning Library and I am so in love with my students. I am see some of the most heartfelt and heart-risking work I’ve ever read come of this my ten-week class and am both in awe and inspired by the women who have been trusting me with their stories. Bravo ladies!!

I was equally in adoration of my tiny writing group of three trusted friends. We met this week and I felt refreshed and ready to get back to the page afterwards. If you don’t have a close group of writers who you trust with your work, find them!! I firmly believe great writers find peers who inspire, encourage and push them to take their writing to the next level.

So, Face the page, Brave Writers! Until next week….

Also check out this week’s post on the Inlandia blog on landscape as inspiration.

May 4 Writing Check In: Fires, Masterchef and Big News

As I start my weekly blog post over on the Inlandia Literary Journey’s blog, it occurred to me that sometimes the most encouraging thing to a writer is to see that they aren’t the only one struggling. It seems to me that the fight and the struggle to get the work done never goes away. At least not for me. I hear that some people simple sit down and write when they are supposed to be writing. I often wish I were them, even if they are mythical creatures. So here begins my first check in for my writing week.

I have plenty of deadlines that are looming, yet on Sunday, I wrote the first short story I’ve written in almost a year. I meant it to be a 500 word exercise, but in the end found myself hours later, holding a short story. I came back to it several times over the week, revising and then sent it out for submission on Firday. I’d be really proud about this if I didn’t have a proposal for a literary nonfiction book to rewrite and three chapters left of a novel I’ve been working on for five years. I hate that I do that sometimes. I hate it when I don’t finish things, but I try to forgive myself for at least getting something done. I really love this short story. Chances are it needs some more distance and tinkering, but it’s still counts as an accomplishment. Can you hear me trying to convince myself? I am trying to get better about forgiving and encouraging myself. I’m not very good at that:

Writing Derailments:

On Tuesday I was finally given permission to announce that I’m a top 100 finalist competing on MasterChef. To my surprise the press release and the reality of it sent me into a state of anxiety. I’ll write about it someday, but this week all I could do was pace around the house muttering “I don’t want to be on TV. I don’t want to be on TV.”

On Wednesday, Banning caught on fire, a big blazing 2000 acre swathe of wilderness behind my house, threatening friends and ravishing my hiking/hunting wilderness. It was hard to think about anything else, but the fire.

Neither of these things are good reasons not to get writing done, but here I am.

Writing Highlights:

I learned a ton about memory studies while working on a blog for NatGeo’s show Brain Games. I love this show! If you aren’t watching it, you should be!

The best moment of the week however, was signing a contract that I have been waiting on since the beginning of the year. I’m excited to be (ghost)writing a memoir about Judy Fridono and her magical and inspirational surfdog/fundraising champ Ricochet. In fact, I’m going to go see Ricochet surf on Sunday while ESPN films.

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Of course…. I still have to write it, right! Here’s hoping for a more productive week and wishing you the same.

Face the page, Brave Writers! I’ll meet you there.

Writing Fulltime: 8 Tips to Survival

When the Sky Falls

I quit my job a year ago to write fulltime.

What was I thinking?

Honestly, I figured I would be back in the workforce again by now. Who really believes they can write for a living? Not me. In fact, I don’t do it well most days. When my friends who are writers tell me that they talk about me as someone who doesn’t just write, but does it professionally, makes a living and is prolific, I wonder who they are talking about.  Have they seen how many times a day I post to Facebook and Twitter?

Yet here I am a year later and I’m struggling, but deliriously happy and keeping a roof over my head. I am teaching a memoir workshop starting next week, have a new parrot training book coming out in May, a three-book contract with Animal Planet for tie-in books to Too Cute, am blogging for Nat Geo TV, crime reporting locally, editing a magazine for the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, writing copy for various businesses, been published in a gorgeous anthology on women’s rights and reproductive health, returned to my Alma Mater to speak at Writers Week, am inches from finishing a high concept speculative fiction novel I’ve been working on for 5 years and was filmed for a very popular reality TV cooking show with my falcon (it will air in June. Shhh. I’m not allowed to talk about it yet).

For the love of the falconry gods, just rereading that list stuns me. Those are not the things I expected to tell you in a year. It’s been amazing, but I’ve learned a lot in the last year. I’ve freelanced fulltime in the past, but times have changed a great deal even in the eight years since I struggled at it last. I’m no expert, by any means, but here are a few things I would say if you truly want to write for a living (And remember I hack write too… I’m not just a literary writer. If I find it interesting and it pays, I’m probably not above writing it.). All the same, this is the advice I would give you over shots of tequila.

  1. Be flexible. You’re not going to pay your bills with the gigs you imagine getting. You’ll pay your bills with the gigs you get and they will be crazy cool, but you can’t guess what they will be yet.
  2. Knock on every door. Try, apply, investigate everything. See above. Even if you have a few gigs, keep doing this. Your jobs will be fluid and unpredictable.
  3. Ask for help. I have courage, a place to work/ do workshops and several of my gigs because friends and family either made it happen or set me up to make it happen for myself. The relationships you build are the djinn in your lamp. Cherish them and don’t be afraid to rub the lamp if you need a wish to come true.
  4. You’re going to screw up. Let it go. You’re probably going to fail to meet some deadlines, bomb at projects you think you are perfect for and hate things you thought you were going to love. Say you’re sorry. Mean it. Remain professional. Move on.
  5. Be grateful. Say thank you. In fact, don’t just say thank you, explain why you are thankful and amazed and in love with any project you get. Tell people who have been amazing to work with exactly why you would work with them again and again. These people are rare and you were lucky to get to work with them, trust me! Editors and clients are people too. We all like to work with people who appreciate us.
  6. Forgive yourself. Writing every day and looking for work is hard. You’re going to be worthless some days. Beating yourself up doesn’t help. It just gives you something else to do instead of writing. Let it go and try again tomorrow.
  7. Balance your life. Surely you decided to write for a living because what you wanted was time and to live life engaged. Don’t forget that writing and ideas originate on long walks, hours on the elliptical, day-long drives, solitude and soaking up other amazing art. More gets done when you give yourself room to do less.
  8. Give back. Say something supportive, kind and genuine to someone in person and online every day. When you are asked, smile and patiently answer a few questions that now sound silly, but are the exact ones you asked mentors ten years ago. Find ways to teach and encourage others who are writing. This is where you will find more inspiration and motivation than any place else.

I’m not going to pretend like this has been an easy year. I’ve done battle with more demons than I remember having. They scream at you when you are taking risks that may change the way you see the world. They wake you up at night. Your biggest challenge is going to be the voices in your head.

So what do you do about the voices? Don’t entirely discount them. They’ve saved your ass many a time, after all, but don’t let them dictate. Face them the way you would anyone who cares about you, but is coming from the wrong place. Hear them out. If there is something positive you can take from them, use it! Understand where they are coming from. Love them if they are coming from a place they earned or tell them to shut the fuck up if they spouting hate, but either way, listen to the person you are now, at the moment. He/She is the one who needs your support. Your voice, brave and in the now, is the one that counts the most. Listen. Encourage. Console. Cheer-lead for what you want, because believe me, you deserve it!

Now, back to those deadlines I’ve missed and am about to miss. There is a crazy amount of work on my desk, but all of it is fascinating and worth writing about and I am so very grateful. This is the life I wanted. I hope you are living yours as well.

Write-Cation Day One

I knew when I won the week-long stay in Sedona, Arizona exactly what I would do with it…. WRITE. I would consider it a free writer’s retreat, a gift from my recalcitrant muse. “Here. Have a pretty place to write. Now quite effing whining to me and do it yourself.”

So here I am, the second day here, trying to write. Writing is not easy, no matter how beautiful the place, how free of distractions, how desperately you want the novel to be finished. I’m trying though…

Yesterday, I got groceries. I took a few minutes to marvel over the amazing red rocks. I took a long bath in the gloriously large tub in the condo where I’m staying. I ate food I probably shouldn’t have and consumed a crazy amount of caffeine.I took a nap. And ultimately I went to bed early.

The writing just wasn’t coming. Where to start? How to finish a book begging to be finished, but determined not to end? I doodled on the first page of a Moleskine my good friend Jessica Lawrence sent me in a package of New Year’s goodies, thinking about how strangely the same beginnings and endings can be. Then I took my newly decorated notebook, a pen and the manuscript and re-read the first 60,000 words of my novel. I let go of the fact I should be writing and read instead.

I treated it like another author’s book and jotted down sentences that caught me as I wrote, not so much as encouragement, be re-embracing the heart of the story. The lines were ones like these, no so much graceful prose as moments I found myself caught up in again:

  • “Quit being a cowboy, McClane, I’ve got this.”
  • “My heart in the belly of this new world, I felt myself still and let go.”
  • “Hunting required energy. Energy required calories. These were the new and wickedly simple mathematics of my life.”
  • “I’ve always suspected that you were my Bolson,” Branson said, but he wasn’t smiling.
  • “This place is wilder than I imagined. I think we are wilder than I imagined.”

Writing a book is a long relationship for me, a relationship that sometimes doesn’t a make it. Sometimes I fall out of love. There are at least four half-finished book manuscripts languishing in my file cabinet. Not every manuscript survives the tumult of living with me.

All the same, twice while I was re-reading this partial novel, Park West, I found myself in tears. I fell in love again with the story I am trying to write and I was so very relieved by this. I don’t know if anyone else will cry, or love those same words and moments in my Moleskine and honestly I don’t care. It doesn’t belong to you yet. For now, it is wholly and completely mine. Right now it’s a story I’m telling myself. I wonder why we as writer’s don’t spend more time enjoying this place, these few minutes when we can be jealous lovers.

I only wrote a few sentences yesterday, but for me the bigger part of writing a book happens off the page. I’m here now, though. I’m writing a story I’m going to finish.

 

A Season in the Chaparral

Trying to jot down the last three months of morning walk/runs in a journal, it occurred that I had already accounted for a season’s worth of my early hours on Twitter. Here it is in journal form, although I know many of you followed along….

April 10
Some walks are better than others. The view from the walk 10 minutes up the road:

 

April 28
Past the cemetery. After the smoke bush. Beyond the point where you turn down your iPod & listen for rattlers. At the palo verde. Meet you there.

 

May 1
AM jog in the clouds, story ideas thrumming, music swelling, kite ascends from beneath a bluff, halting to hover above me, perfection.

 

May 2
Jogged home with a fist full of wild white sage, leaves turned silver-side w/ dew, thinking all good things in California smell like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 10
Walking this AM, the dog and I paused to put the moon to bed…

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 15
Wish wildflower season lasted all year… #californiachaparral

 

May 16
Tempting, but picking Jimson weed on the morning run is probably ill-advised…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 22
That moment when you look up and thank the dog for nudging you out of bed and dragging you up the hill.

 

May 25
Last kiss of spring rain drawn in by the chaparral and exhaled smelling of iron, citrus, licorice and gratitude. #morningrun

 

May 27
Oh, tempestuous, achingly changeable May. You and September are my favorite months. #MonthsofFey

 

May 28
A silent rattlesnake beneath a gumtree thrumming with bees. Today feels dangerous. Be careful out there, lovelies!


May 30
Just a girl and her dog.

 June 6
How exactly is it that they know I’ll probably feed them? #waitingoutsidemywindow

 

June 12
Bear foot and likely looking for a way into to the honey.

 

June 14
One of those mornings when the universe says, “Quit chasing hawks. Now, follow the ravens into the wilderness…”

 

June 17
The bee yard that is the halfway mark on my jog was empty of hives, making me wonder if I wasted my Spring. #seasonschange

 

June 18
Cabbage moths and Jimson weed, flaring white. Faded memories, crystallizing under the strengthening nearly-summer sun.

 


 

 

 

June 19
The foreign lines of a native bee discovered at the center of an evening primrose make me feel that I belong here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And so on to Summer. May it be as beautiful and treacherous and full of possibilities as the Spring.

xx -R